Students who started a T Level in 2020 and 2021 can complete a chunk of their industry placement remotely, the government has announced today.
Ministers and sector leaders have become increasing worried about convincing enough businesses to host students for the 315-hour or 45-day placements, a concern exacerbated by Covid-19.
A Department for Education spokesperson said officials have waited “as long as possible” to see if the impacts the pandemic has had on employers’ working practices “resolve themselves” in time to enable all students in the first cohorts to have a “100 per cent in person placement”.
But recent feedback has shown that providers are still experiencing difficulties in securing placements in some areas.
Several temporary flexibilities have now been applied to the first two waves of learners studying the flagship new post-16 technical qualifications.
For 2020 starters, students can spend a maximum of 40 per cent of their placement hours remotely, new guidance published today has revealed.
Learners starting in 2021 will be allowed to spend a maximum of 25 per cent of their placement hours not in the workplace.
This approach can be applied to students taking T Levels in the digital, construction and health and science routes, but not education and childcare.
The DfE said this was because education and childcare “cannot be delivered in a blended way and must continue as 100 per cent in person to reflect the level of competence in knowledge and skills that students need to be demonstrate in the workplace, to meet the early years educator criteria”.
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said this new flexibility “allows colleges some space to ensure that every placement is a high-quality experience” in the face of “changes in working practices”.
The DfE said the remote element must take place at either the provider’s site, a training centre or simulated working environment run by the employer.
Students should not complete this remote working element of their placement at home, the guidance adds.
It continues: “Providers and employers will need to agree which elements of the placement and which learning objectives can be realistically achieved remotely.”
Additionally, students who are studying the health, healthcare science and science T Levels will be able to complete a placement at “pathway level if a placement at specialism level can’t be sourced”.
Around 1,300 young people started T Levels last year. Figures for this year’s enrolments have not yet been released.
Providers of the early years educator T Level told FE Week last January they had postponed placements to keep students and the workplaces safe.
In response, the DfE cut the minimum hours for placements for level 3 early educator qualifications, including the T Level, from 750 hours to 415 because of the pandemic during 2020.
The department has now extended this flexibility to education and childcare students starting in 2021.
Providers have been told to continue to plan to deliver placements of 750 hours for education and childcare students who started their T Levels in 2021, but “in situations where they are not able to do this, students can still complete their placement if they do a minimum of 415 hours and are able to demonstrate competence against the early years educator criteria”.
Today’s flexibilities come after the DfE announced in May it would temporarily increase the cash incentives for employers running T Level industry placements to £1,000.
Employers running placements in 2020/21, the first year of the flagship qualifications’ roll-out, were gifted £750 for every student they placed, up to a maximum of ten students.
Firms are now able to claim for a new maximum of 20 students on T Level programmes until July 2022.
Three T Levels were rolled out last September, and a further seven started this autumn.